School recycling

Nearly 80 percent of school waste is recyclable or compostable.

School recycling programs educate future generations about the importance of waste reduction, recycling and overall environmental stewardship. Recycling can also help schools save on disposal costs and taxes associated with solid waste disposal.

Hennepin County has funding, free container signage and technical assistance available to help schools start or improve recycling programs.

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School recycling grants

We are no longer accepting applications for the 2016 School Recycling Grant round. If you would like assistance with your school's recycling program, please contact Kira Berglund at 612-596-1498 or kira.berglund@hennepin.us.

Funding priorities

The following objectives have been established as funding priorities for use of school recycling assistance program funds.

Objective 1: Recycling organic waste

Projects divert organic materials, including food waste and non-recyclable paper products, from the garbage.

Project examples include:

  • Collecting organics in separate containers for delivery to a composting facility; 
  • Diverting still-edible food from facilities and events for human consumption;
  • Capturing food waste to be processed into animal feed;
  • Establishing an on-site organics composting program;
  • Replacing single-use disposable items with compostable alternatives.

Learn more about organics recycling.

Objective 2: Recycling and waste reduction improvement and innovation

Projects improve recycling and/or provide new opportunities to recycle. Projects can also introduce innovative ideas to existing recycling collection methods.

Project examples include:

  • Initiating carton recycling in school cafeterias if cartons are currently not being collected for recycling;
  • Expanding collection to other parts of the school building (restrooms, art rooms, staff lounges, etc.), athletic facilities and school district buildings;
  • Collecting recyclables at special events, e.g. athletic events and school festivals;
  • Replacing single-use and disposable items with bulk and reusable items;
  • Comparing recovery rates and cost effectiveness of various collection methods and equipment;
  • Replacing worn out or makeshift bins and signs.

Eligible expenses

Eligible expenditures include:

  • Bins, barrels, carts, sorting stations etc., for collecting recycling or organics;
  • Compostable plastic bags for lining organics collection containers (eligible only for new start up programs or expansion of existing programs, one-year supply);
  • Reusable to replace disposable foodware;
  • Compostable foodware to replace disposable foodware (eligible only for new start up programs or expansion of existing programs, one-year supply);
  • Bulk condiment dispensers to replace single-use options;
  • Hauling of organics (eligible only for new start up programs, first year of program);
  • Reimbursement for monitors to oversee separation of organics, recycling, and trash in school cafeterias during the initial launch of project;
  • Stipends for teachers to start and lead school environmental clubs, for the portion of their work related to the support waste diversion activities at their schools.

Tips and guidelines

Most of the waste produced at schools can be recycled or composted. The following resources can help you start or improve a recycling program at your school.

Benefits of recycling programs

Implementing recycling and organics collection in schools provides environmental, educational and financial benefits:

  • Environmental: By recycling, new products are made from materials being thrown away. Diverting organic waste means that leftover food is donated to help people in need, fed to animals or recycled into compost.
  • Educational: Recycling and organics recycling presents hands-on environmental education opportunities that provide a forum for teaching many scientific topics, such as decomposition, pollution, habitat loss, microbiology, chemistry, soil ecology, manufacturing and engineering.
  • Financial: Schools can reduce disposal costs and taxes associated with solid waste disposal.

    Setting up a recycling program

    The recycling guide for Minnesota schools (PDF), published by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, is a great resource for setting up a school recycling program.

    School waste study

    A school waste sort study, conducted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Hennepin County and City of Minneapolis, gives some key insights into waste generation at schools, including that nearly 80 percent of school waste could be recycled.

    Waste sort guide

    Interested in learning more about the amount and type of waste produced at your schools by conducting a waste audit or waste sort? 

    Check out our how-to guide for conducting a waste sort (PDF) for step-by-step instructions for conducting a waste sort, including how to organize and set up the sort, what equipment you will need, and how to collect data with sample data sheets.

    Sample brochure text

    Use the sample organics program brochure text (DOCX) to develop promotional materials for your program.

    Case studies and project examples

    Learn more about programs developed by school districts.

    Videos

    Organics recycling in schools

    Organics recycling in schools: Hennepin County best practices guide (PDF)

    Common organic wastes at schools

    • Food waste, including scraps from kitchen prep, lunches and snacks
    • Paper towels, napkins and tissues
    • Food-soiled paper, including paper lunch bags, pizza boxes, paper-ware and waxed paper

    Organic waste is commonly generated and can be collected in the following areas in schools:

    • Kitchen
    • Cafeteria
    • Restrooms
    • Faculty lounge

    Organics recycling options

    • Food-to-people programs: Donate edible food to organizations that help people in need.
    • Food-to-livestock programs: Have your food processed into feed for livestock.
    • Organics composting: Have your food scraps and food-soiled paper products turned into valuable compost.

    Learn more about organics recycling.

    Tips and lessons learned

    • The capital cost of starting up an organics recycling programs includes, but is not limited to:
      • Compostable (trash) bags
      • Educational materials and advertising
      • New containers for organic waste
    • Efficiently operated recycling programs pay for themselves. Significant cost savings can result from:
      • Reduced trash service — pick-up required less frequently
      • State and county solid waste tax exemptions — there is a 31.5 percent tax for trash and no tax for organics
      • Reduced tipping fee on organic waste — trash costs $40 per ton while organics costs $15 per ton
    • Organics recycling does not significantly increase the workload for custodians.
    • Organic recycling reinvigorates traditional recycling (bottles, cans, paper, etc.) as well as overall environmental awareness.
    • Expect to spend some time educating both students and staff about an organics recycling program, especially during the initial start-up of the program. Have dedicated monitors (which can be students, staff, parents, or other volunteers) at waste containers to educate students and assist them with sorting. Monitors should educate and encourage sorting while offering minimal assistance so that the organics program can eventually operate with little or no supervision.

    Recycling classroom presentations

    Bring hands-on learning about recycling and waste reduction to your school 

    Hennepin County has staff available to give classroom presentations to engage students in hands-on learning about waste generation, the benefits of recycling and the importance of sorting waste correctly at school and everywhere else.

    Some presentations provide a comprehensive overview to help students understand the importance of participating in the school recycling program. For schools that have already done such presentations, additional lessons delve deeper into different topics areas, including paper recycling, investigating packaging and composting.

    Review presentations available (PDF)

    For more information or to sign up your class, contact Kira Berglund at kira.berglund@hennepin.us or 612-596-1498.

    Recently awarded grants

    Grants awarded in 2016

    Hennepin County recently awarded 15 grants totaling more than $182,000 to schools and school districts to reduce waste and improve recycling and organics programs. 

    • Bdote Learning Center: $12,800 to start recycling and composting throughout the school, replace disposable trays and utensils with reusable and compostable items, and add an outdoor compost bin.
    • Beacon Academy: $9,400 to add organics collection in the cafeteria, collect paper towels from restrooms for composting, and improve recycling.
    • Bright Water Elementary: $2,200 to improve their recycling program and start collecting organics in their classrooms, dining hall, and staff lounge.
    • DeLaSalle High School: $9,600 to expand their recycling program to include events, outdoor athletic games, and a building extension. They will also add water refill stations to reduce waste from single-use plastic water bottles.
    • Eagle Ridge Academy: $9,200 to improve the recycling program at their new building, including the addition of recycling containers on the school grounds and at events.
    • El Colegio High School: $8,100 to start an organics recycling program, replace single-use plastic foodservice ware with compostable items, and start a student green team.
    • Excell Academy: $400 to add recycling collection in their cafeteria.
    • Harvest Network of Schools: $20,300 to start a recycling program at three of their schools.
    • Minneapolis Public Schools: $25,000 for projects at four schools. Edison High School will improve their organics recycling program and expand their recycling program to the school hallways and common areas. Hmong International Academy will start collecting organics for recycling in the cafeteria. Roosevelt High School will restart their organics recycling program and expand their recycling program to the hallways and common areas. South High School will add sorting stations to improve the organics collection and start collecting recycling in their cafeteria.
    • Maranatha Christian Academy: $8,600 to start an organics recycling program and improve their recycling program. They will also start a student recycling and composting club.
    • New City School: $4,300 to add organics collection in the cafeteria and improve recycling throughout the school.
    • Noble Academy: $5,100 to improve their organics and recycling programs throughout the school and add sorting stations at events. They will also start a student green team.
    • Osseo Area Schools: $ 24,000 for projects at two schools. Rice Lake Elementary and Weaver Lake Elementary will start collecting organics and recycling in their cafeterias. They will also collect paper towels from the classrooms and restrooms for organics recycling.
    • St Louis Park Public Schools: $ 22,500 to improve the recycling program district-wide by adding recycling in all of the cafeterias. St. Louis Park Middle School will begin an organics recycling program by collecting organics in their cafeteria as well as paper towels from the restrooms.
    • St Anthony-New Brighton School District: $ 21,200 to improve their recycling and organics programs at the middle and high school. They will also add reusable foodservice ware in the teachers’ lounges and cafeteria to replace single-use items and water refill stations to reduce waste from single-use plastic water bottles.

    Grants awarded in 2015

    In May 2015, Hennepin County awarded over $190,000 in grants to help schools reduce waste and improve recycling and organics programs. Grant recipients include six public school districts, five charter schools, and three non-public schools.

    • Bloomington Schools ISD 271: $36,783 to improve their organics recycling program through the purchase of stainless steel sorting tables. Disposable utensils will be replaced with reusable silverware.
    • Eagle Ridge Academy: $5,600 to retrofit existing water fountains and install new water fountains to include bottle filling stations, reducing waste from single-use plastic water bottles.
    • Eden Prairie Public Schools: $12,500 to improve their organics and recycling programs by adding sorting tables in the cafeteria. 
    • Edina Public Schools: $23,755 to improve the organics and recycling programs at all of their elementary schools by adding signage racks over the bins in the cafeteria.
    • Hiawatha Academies: $6,004 to improve recycling at four of their schools. Reusable trays will be used at the new high school, and disposable trays will be replaced with reusable trays at the elementary schools.
    • International School of MN: $20,877 to start an organics recycling program and improve their existing recycling program.
    • Minneapolis Public Schools: $25,000 to grant projects taking place at two schools: Lyndale Community School and Washburn High School. Both will improve their internal recycling programs and add outdoor recycling containers. Washburn will initiate an organics recycling program in their cafeteria, and Lyndale will improve upon their organics collection.
    • Minnetonka Public Schools: $2,256 to improve their recycling by adding containers and converting their hallway recycling containers to single-stream.
    • Northeast College Prep: $15,047 to start an organics recycling program and improving their current recycling program. They will also switch from Styrofoam trays and plastic utensils to compostable alternatives.
    • Southside Family Charter School: $5,744 to improve their existing recycling program and start two new student environmental groups.
    • Wayzata Public Schools: $24,965 to improve their internal recycling and organics collection program by adding recycling stations in the hallways at all of their schools. They will also start collecting paper towels for organics recycling at Wayzata High School and the three middle schools.
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